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Fakhri Shafai, Kimberly Armstrong, Grace Iarocci, Ipek Oruc; Association between face-specific visual abilities and social competence in autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Vision 2016;16(12):487. doi: 10.1167/16.12.487.
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Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are associated with social deficits and communication difficulties as well as stereotyped or repetitive behaviors. Neuropathology of ASD remains controversial as no isolated biomarker or dysfunction of, e.g., a single brain structure, accounts for the symptoms. Although visual symptoms are not part of the core diagnostic criteria, atypicalities in vision are prevalent in ASD. In particular, difficulties in perception and memory for facial identity, as well as expression, have been widely reported (e.g. Dawson et al. 2005, Weigelt et al. 2012). Some neuropathological models of ASD postulate a causal relationship between the social deficits and face perception problems, suggesting that an initial insult to the neural mechanisms of face processing negatively impacts the development of social skills (e.g. Schultz 2005). Such a model would require variation in face abilities among individuals with ASD to be associated with variation is social competence. Here, we examined this link for facial identity processing in a group of adults with ASD (N=31). Face memory was assessed with the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT). We also measured recognition contrast thresholds for face and house stimuli in a 5AFC paradigm—face-specific perception was computed by partialing out house performance from that of face. Social competence was assessed via the Multidimensional Social Competence Scale (MSCS) (Yager & Iarocci, 2013). We also collected the following neuropsychological measures: 1) Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (WASI-II), 2) Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), 3) Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). Our results showed a strong association between CFMT performance and three sub-scales of the MSCS: Social Inferencing (SI) (p=0.027), Social Motivation (p=0.028) and Nonverbal Skills (p=0.04). Face-specific perception was also associated with the SI sub-scale (p=0.014). These results are consistent with a perceptual deficit account of social impairment in ASD, at least for some aspects of social competence.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2016
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